“Jack will wake up soon, right?” I asked Ezra. “Right?”
Ezra stared at me with the familiar eyes. “I don’t want to lie to you, Riley, but I can’t guarantee about that. He could wake up tomorrow, a week later or even after ten years.”
“That can’t be true.” I said the words barely out of my mouth. I wiped a tear that was sliding down my face. “There has to be some other way!”
“The damage is done. The killer got what he wanted. There were two key people who knew his identity. He killed one of them and the other slipped into a coma. Everything turned out in the killers favor.”
“So what are you going to do? Just give up?!” I asked.
“No. Of course not! The investigation will go on with or without Jack.” He squeezed my shoulders in assurance. “Everything is going to be okay. You’ve gotta be strong.”
“How could I?” I whispered.
My best friend was dead, and the man I loved had slipped into a coma with a possibility that he may never wake up. I didn’t think I could remain strong much longer. I was alone in this, and the killer was out there.
“Can I see him?” I asked.
Ezra shrugged. “Riley, it’s best for you not to.”
“But I really want to! You can’t stop me!”
And of course he didn’t. The next hour I was walking down the long hallway of the hospital ward towards the room Jack was admitted in.
When I entered the room and saw Jack lying there with all those wires connecting to his body. It was heartbreaking and I couldn’t bear to see him like that. I sat there for a few hours until Ezra told me I should leave.
“But what if the killer comes here and tries to hurt Jack?” I asked.
“We have two security guards outside the room. A doctor and a nurse who makes regular rounds. The killer won’t be able to get in. I have told hospital staff to not allow any visitors apart from you and me.”
I looked at Jack. Ezra sighed, understanding my dilemma. “Go home, Riley.”
Maddy and I had often discussed what I would wear at her wedding as her maid of honor, but never in my worst nightmares had I imagined I would be picking a dress from my wardrobe for her funeral. I was wearing the same dress I’d worn during my parents funeral. I looked at myself in the mirror. My brown hair was pulled back in a bun, my face looked tired with puffy red eyes. Like I cared.
I cried that morning, I’d let loose the floodgate that was bound to open but I’d been holding back. I almost fainted but Ken caught me in his arms before I could hit the floor. He held me tightly in his arms while I let all the tears free.
Ken didn’t say a word to reassure me; he never said a word when our parents died too. We communicated better through the silence.
It was cloudy that morning; the sky was painted an ugly shade of grey as if my feelings were being conveyed through the weather. The air was damp and breezy. I was seated in the middle aisle of the church where I’d met a few nurses who’d been friends with her. Most of the WoodVille’s staff was here, including the director, Dr. Liu.
I saw Dr. Paul Bennett seated in the last aisle, all by himself wearing a black suit. His reddish blond hair combed neatly. His eyes were vacant; no sign of sadness or remorse. Maddy surely wasn’t too close to him, but I knew they got along better than he and I did. Suddenly, his eyes met mine for a fraction of a second before I turned to the front.
The church basked in hushed conversations. Everyone was dressed in black, their faces white as sheets. I hated this feeling; it was like nothing was going to be okay ever again. No matter how happy you were in life, one day it was coming to an end. For some people it would be tragically early, for some later in life.
The most important thing was to live life to the fullest, without regrets and I guess Maddy had done just that. She was reading a book, having a glass of wine and preparing dinner while hogging on chips.
I giggled thinking of it, and just then realized that it wasn’t the best thing to do at a funeral because all heads turned to face me.
“Sorry.” I mumbled.
I spotted Maddy’s parents who were talking to a distant relative. Her mother was especially distraught, sobbing into her handkerchief. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I remembered how she used to joke around and make fun of things, especially the other nurses. All this seemed so unreal. The funeral service went slowly. I had already tuned out the Ministers words as he recited the rehearsed speech.
Maddy would have had something to say about his hairstyle.
I said a few words in memory of Maddy, it was short and sweet, cutting straight to the point. I couldn’t complete because I was going to cry again. Everyone’s faces mirrored sympathy, Maddy’s mother held onto her father and sobbed harder.
I said my last goodbye to Maddy, staring one last time at her face, thinking she would blink her eyes open any minute. While I placed her favorite flower in the casket, I noticed stitch marks on her neck. I stayed until after all the mourners had paid their respect and the casket was lowered into the ground.
My heart broke as I watched the soil being shoveled on top on the casket. The rain began pouring. I took a few steps back and took shelter by a large tree. It didn’t help much as the water drops soaked into my clothing. I felt a presence beside me, and I wasn’t soaking in the rain anymore.
“I’m sorry about what happened to Madeline.” Paul Bennett stood disgustingly close, holding the umbrella above our head. His strong perfume assaulted my nostrils. He shocked me further by extending his handkerchief towards me. I stared at him, flabbergasted. What if he’d doused that handkerchief with poison so that I’d die taking a sniff?
“Well, I’m sorry too.” I responded, dabbing the cloth under my eyes despite of myself.
I wasn’t really in a mood to talk right now, and definitely not with someone like Paul, but I really didn’t want to make a scene in my best friend’s funeral.
“Is there a reason why you’re being so nice? Forgive me, Dr. Bennett, but it’s a little nauseating. I don’t like you.” I reminded him, handing his handkerchief back and taking a side step away from him.
“Let’s bury the hatchet, Frazer. We started on the wrong foot, I said some horrible things which I shouldn’t have and I apologize for that.” Paul said, taking a side step towards me.
I never thought I’d see a day where Paul Bennett, my mortal enemy would apologize to me.
“I want to know why were you so mean towards me?”
“Do you want an honest answer?”
“Of course, I do.” I replied.
“I was jealous of you. The way you were close to Aaron. He always talked about you and it made me green with envy because I wanted to be in your place. I wanted to be his favorite. And then when you took a liking to Jackson Wolfe, he hated it. The two of you drifted apart.”
“And that made you happy.” I concluded for him.
Paul nodded. “It did, but I realized how wrong it was, and that there’s no point in the constant bickering. What if I die tomorrow? Or in a few days? All these fights would be for nothing.”
“What did you do with Dr. Paul Bennett?” I mocked, giving him a sideways glance.
“We have a common enemy, Riley.”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. A lot of people died, and we could be next on the killer’s list.”
It was the first time I agreed with Paul on something.
“I know that.” I said. “Honestly, I could be talking to a killer right now, and you could be laughing at the lot of us for not suspecting you of a thing.”
Paul’s serious expressions cracked into a devilish smile. “I’m quite flattered you think I could be smart enough to be the killer, but I could say the same thing about you too. Maybe the goody-two shoes act is just your way to distract the investigators from yourself. Maybe you’re the one laughing at us.”
“And you think I would try to kill Jack?”
“Hypothetically speaking, it’s possible you have an ulterior motive. If you’re the killer, attacking Jackson would just be in your favor. Everyone knows you’re his bae...as people like to call themselves these days. Frankly, no one would suspect you and it would be an excellent cover.”
“Seriously?” I stared at him in disgust.
“I said it’s hypothetical. I’m not here to fight. I just saw something last night and I thought I should warn you.” Paul said growing serious, the no-nonsense tone was there.
Paul leaned in. “Last night when I was done with the twenty-four shift, I saw something.”
“What did you see?” I asked. Curiosity got the better of me.
“I remember someone telling me that you saw a shoe print in the mud outside of Maddy’s house.”
“Almost like someone killed her and tried to take off by foot.” I added.
“Right. But I learned of that only after the murder was committed.” He lowered his voice down even more. Due to the pitter-patter sound of the rain it was difficult to listen to him as it is.
“I still don’t know where you’re getting at.” I stated.
“This happened an hour before I heard the news of Madeline’s murder. I was passing through the closed hospital section and I saw a man there with mud prints. He was washing his shoe sole in the men’s restroom frantically.”
“Who was it, Paul?”
“It was...” he looked around and then in a lowered voice he said. “It was Dr. Aaron Shaw.”
“I don’t believe you.” I said right off the bat.
“I knew you wouldn’t. I didn’t believe it myself but it’s not difficult to connect the dots. He left early that night giving a bullshit of an excuse. It looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.” To prove his theory, he added. "Did you see him attending this service? He was close to Maddy too. Why wouldn't he show up at her funeral if he wasn't guilty?"
I contemplated. It was true. I had seen mostly everyone except Aaron and that was quite odd.
“You should talk to the detectives.” I suggested.
“I will. I just wanted to warn you.” Paul said. “Some people are not what they seem to be.”
What if Paul was telling the truth? Or was it possible that the friendliness was just an act to hide something else? Trusting Paul was like trusting a snake to look after a dozen baby mice.
My head started to spin. The thought of Aaron being the killer was too disturbing. I needed to talk to Ezra.
I was headed towards my car when my phone buzzed in my little leather bag. I pulled it out and swiped the screen. A message from an unknown number lit up.
Just two chilling words.
You’re next :)
A.N: Hi loves! Hope you're all doing great. My writers block hasn't completely cured but I already have the next chapter planned so it should be up in a few days :)
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